June 08, 2017

The Search for a New Order

The search for a new social and economic world order continues in the middle of all this madness. At least in my head. Growth and its power-law dynamics brought us to a place where the losers can't hold it together any longer. Rage engulfs the developed world. Irrationality reigns supreme.

Capitalism (coupled with rule of law and property rights) had provided the avenue to exercise our self-determination. The principle that material success is entirely (or at least mostly) dependent on our effort had proven a quasi-religious mantra for many. And it was alluring. More than that: self-vindicating. The idea that I'm the architect of my destiny and that nothing can hold me back can be an inebriating, hypnotizing force that arms us with untold amounts of discipline and resolve to over-perform. Forget for now about the fact that that over-performance can be easier to achieve in the fast lane of that avenue. Or that a government has to build the actual avenue for said achievement to occur.

But what happens when, despite being positioned in the fast lane of that avenue --and armed with the ambition to excel-- competition occurs against someone who can perform astronomically faster than you? Someone doesn't sleep at all? Or worse, someone who does not demand money in return for their work? 

It's when the avenue fails to take us to our meritocratic self-realization that problems arise. When failure to achieve despite putting in the sweat --despite the merits-- becomes widespread, the self-determination illusion evaporates. Desperation sets in. Despair destroys your world.  

If we fret about technology upending the productivity model of Capitalistic societies --on the supply side of the economy-- its effect on the consumption (demand) side should be chilling. It's been a long, surreptitious process. Technology --in its mechanical form-- first destroyed the physical value provided by humans (our ability to physically create objects/services of value) when it substituted it through mechanization. Now that human value has retreated to informational capital contained in the brain, technology is in the process of taking over (most of) those functions as well. All what's left for us is to be reduced to mere consuming entities who give up our preferences so internet companies monetize them

Is the last refuge of value as humans to become consumer automatons to be groomed online and harvested for profit?

Maybe the promise of a fulfilling life through the cul-de-sac house with the trimmed front-yard in the gated community was overrated. Maybe it is true that the promise of Capitalism was an elusive state --a never-ending thread-mill. Maybe transcendence beyond this life is more fulfilling, and therein lies the "allure" of religious fanatic, apocalyptic radicalism. But one thing is for sure: the sick "satisfaction" a suicide bomber gets from the heinous act of killing innocent little girls at a concert can't be measured in utils. And the enlightened, stylized microeconomic models of neoclassical economists trying to describe that kind of "human" behavior are rendered useless

Or maybe we need to question the model of the Liberal Democratic State as the unit of social cohesion. It has, after all, many flaws: Fanatic allegiances that drive tribalism and catastrophic wars; arbitrary borders that exacerbate infighting (just look at the middle east and the serendipitous partition which spawned it); assimilation issues that alienate entire subgroups; and a self-defeating proneness to elitist capture. Could this rarefication of the air we breathe (i.e. hateful "free speech") be nothing but a manifestation of the obsolescence of the Liberal Democratic State? 

Are Liberal Values paradoxically self-destructive

Is it really fair to ask this question only after the current string of attacks in developed countries has occurred? And why did I not reflect about these issues after the the harrowing, unending, hearth crushing, mind numbing, terrorist attacks in developing countries? 

Perhaps the truly unit of social cohesion is the Multinational Corporation in this weird New Order and we simply haven't realized yet. After all, they have the same characteristics of a Nation: a Citizenry (employees), and an out-sized influence over economic activity (more so than governments). They even provide subsidized healthcare to their "citizens". Yes, they're the ones subjecting us to the implementation of human-substituting technologies, but how can they not? They're programmed to do it. Shareholder Value Maximization tells them so

Maybe we should tax the actual robots "stealing" human jobs (as if they could consciously intend to "steal" them), or rather, the Corporation profiting from their automation. How about imposing a "society tax" at each IPO to fund a Universal Basic Income? After all, Society --and by extension the governments which represent it-- did provide for many of the networks that allowed them to flourish. 

I honestly don't know. I'm not sitting here pretending to know any of the answers. But clearly, the sense that we need to come up with a solution is pressing.